Featured Artist

The Call of Sedona Came Early for Artist, Syri Hall

Sedona helped shape Syri Hall’s early art career in many ways. As it is for Ilchi Lee, Sedona continues to inspire. She shares her story in our recent interview.

Syri Hall

LT: First, Syri, please tell our readers a little about your art.

SH: I do painting, drawing, and sculpture, and I’m completely addicted to photography! And lately, I’ve been doing some plein air.

LT: When did you first experience the beauty of Sedona?

SH: My parents moved to Phoenix when I was a year old, and we immediately started coming up to Sedona, the year was 1955. We came up frequently for picnics, and then my parents decided they wanted to spend most of the summer up here. They bought a travel trailer, and we parked it at Indian Gardens. So I got to roller skate at the rink across the street, and we bought our groceries at the Indian Gardens store.

LT: It sounds like you have wonderful memories of your summers in Sedona!

SH: Yes, we got to go to the Slide Rock when I was a kid, when maybe there would be only one other couple, or no one at all. We got to go to Jerome, where there would be just a handful of people. I had the unique experience of spending a lot of time up here ever since I was one year old.

I always knew I wanted to live up here. When I was in my late teens and my freshman year in college, my parents built a house up here, in West Sedona. We spent every weekend and every holiday, and whenever we could in Sedona. And Marc, my husband now, was in on it, because I met him when I was a freshman. He and I spent tons of time here until we graduated and then we moved up here in 1977.

LT: When did you begin doing art?

SH: I was little, my parents and older brother bought paint kits at the Indian Gardens store: paint-by-numbers, and I made such a stink that they went and bought me one. It was red roses, and that’s how I started painting! I’ve always painted, drawn, and sculpted. I got my first camera when I was seven, and I’ve been addicted ever since.

After moving here, I started taking classes at the Sedona Arts Center. I took a lot of classes because I’d switched majors my junior year of college from business administration to art, and I didn’t feel like I had had enough art in those first two years. Then I started working in a bronze factory and got interested in sculpture. I took sculpture from Eugenia Everett and Ken Ottinger, and I studied stained glass and all kinds of stuff. That’s when I started sculpting—33 years ago.

LT: What projects are on the horizon for you, for your art?

SH: I want to start a woman’s plein air group as soon as it cools off. Go head out, pick a spot and people show up when they want—a very informal kind of a thing, for women. Also, I’m in touch with some people, and we’re thinking of resurrecting “Sculpture Walk.” I was involved way back, only as I was showing in it. I had little kids at the time, but now, I think I’m ready and I feel the town is ready for something like that.

LT: Your Call of Sedona came at such a tender age! How has Sedona influenced you as an artist?

SH: I look at the red rocks every single day. I’ve always considered the red rocks of Sedona to be Mother Nature’s crowning achievement! There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t admire the rocks!
Like today—with those beautiful poofy clouds; I’ve been out doing some photography, and I can’t get enough of it! I hike, I ride my horse, and I always have my camera with me. As I mentioned, I’ve been doing some plein air lately. I really haven’t painted anywhere but here, but I don’t think there’s anything quite as interesting as Sedona. I actually started plein air painting about thirteen years ago, but I realized all of a sudden I really like it: I like capturing what I see!

LT: Thank you, Syri!

By Lynn A. Trombetta

Local Author Kris Neri Discovered Magical Gifts in Sedona that Drew Her Back

Award-winning author, Kris Neri tells the story of her own “Call to Sedona” and how for her, the magic never ends.

Kris Neri, Sedona author

Lynn Trombetta: Kris, you’ve done well with your writing. Please tell how, like Ilchi Lee, you experienced your own Call of Sedona, and how that has influenced your career as an award-winning fiction writer.

Kris Neri: I don’t think my story is that different from other people; the first time I came I was struck by the beauty, but mostly I was struck by the sense that this place was in some way magical. My husband Joe and I kept finding ourselves coming back again and again. When we had an opportunity to go elsewhere, we always wanted to go to Sedona. And increasingly when we returned home to Los Angeles, where we lived, we both felt, just “sadder,” and that we had lost something by leaving Sedona.

One of the times when I came, I had just an epiphany: the characters and a fantasy situation came to me, whole! I just knew who these characters were. I knew what their situation was. It just felt like a gift. And I never wrote fantasy before- I always wrote mystery! I went home and put them in a couple of stories, which were published.

The characters wouldn’t let go of me, and I eventually put them into two novels, one of which is set in Sedona. I’ve really regarded them as gifts from this special place. I can’t explain the way it happened. One novel has received a major award nomination and the other one won the 2012 New Mexico – Arizona Book Award for Fantasy.

And the awards, to me just validated that I was supposed to follow that path with them, and this was just the reward for doing it.

There are certainly other places that I have been touched by visiting, but there’s never been any place that I’ve felt gave me the same things that I find in Sedona.

LT: Tell us a bit more about the two novels, please.

KN: The two book titles are “High Crimes on the Magical Plane” and “Magical Alienation.” They feature a questionable psychic and a modern goddess. I draw on my Irish background and the Celtic tales that my mother told me as a child, and I use those things in both stories. “Magical Alienation” won the award for Fantasy.

LT: So, at what point did you decide to make Sedona your home?

KN: We moved here in 2005. That was really after a good twenty years of visiting, and a few years of coming several times a year. I think it’s true that Sedona just calls some people.

When we decided we wanted to move, we had to figure out a way to make a living here. We started the Well Red Coyote that same year. It is a general interest bookstore, which means we carry everything, and our idea was that we wanted it to be a real community gathering place. So by now we have featured thousands of authors appearing and doing various presentations. And loads of free musical concerts. And I think the community has responded and does view it the same way we do.

LT: Kris, what’s on the horizon for you?

KN: I just signed the contract to write an e-novella for a new company, Stark Raving, that’s based in Beverly Hills. I’ve just started writing and it will be called, “Trust No One.” It is kind of a thriller.

After nine years in Sedona, I still don’t feel that I’ve lost any of the magic. To me I still feel thrilled by the sight of the red rocks; I’m still struck by the size of the sky – the way the sky seems to go on forever. And just the richness of all the colors. I have never become even one little bit indifferent to it.

LT: Thank you, Kris!

By Lynn Trombetta

Guitarist Fitzhugh Jenkins Found 1980’s Sedona to Be Fertile Ground for Musical and Spiritual Growth

Guitarist Fitzhugh JenkinsFitzhugh Jenkins: Much as Ilchi Lee described the inherent qualities of Sedona in The Call of Sedona, guitarist Fitzhugh Jenkins tells the story of a “spiritual unfoldment” in himself and his career in our interview.

LT: Fitzhugh, how did you come to live in Sedona?

FJ: I grew up in Hawaii, and then I moved to Los Angeles in 1980, where I was doing studio work. Right then is when the Shah of Iran was exiled. The whole hostage crisis started, so the Shah’s private court of musicians and belly dancers all came to L.A. They were in exile because the Shah was kicked out and Khomeini came into power. I ended up touring for ten years with all those musicians, playing bass, and it was really fruitful musically. (The Jazz Bedouins, this band I’ve had for twenty years, that’s all based on when I was touring with the Iranians, based on Persian music.)

I was always on a real spiritual trip. When the touring dried up, I moved a little bit north to Ojai, California because Krishna Murdi was living up there and doing talks in the oak grove. But then he passed away. I went into the health food store and the guy said, “Come into my office and I’ll show you where I wish I lived.” He had pictures of Sedona all over the wall of his office in his health food store.

I ended up coming out here and really resonated with it. This was before Sedona was incorporated into a city, and there were only about 8,000 people living here. It was just a real fabulous time of my life. I was just so tired of L.A. and tired of big cities. Here I just really got into writing my own original music, because I was always playing everybody else’s music in L.A.

There was a health food store here in the late 80’s called, “Food Among the Flowers,” and I just went down there one day and started playing, and I was never out of work since. People heard me, and it became a real musical and spiritual renaissance for me.

LT: You are among the most working musicians in this town, in a steady, quiet way.

FJ: You know, I’ve never promoted, or solicited myself, or asked for a gig. I just utilized spiritual principles to draw work to myself, without reaching out, and that was taught to me by some metaphysical musicians in Los Angeles. Instead of wasting energy pounding the pavement, you actually draw to you what you need in your life. It’s really just understanding that we’re living in a spiritual universe, and it’s not a material universe. It’s interesting, because it was like that all the way back to when I was fifteen in Hawaii; I had all the best gigs in Hawaii too.

LT: And you attribute that more to the spiritual aspects, than to the obvious talent that you have? These are clearly working together, but do you think you had a sense of that spiritual essence of it even when you were fifteen?

FJ: Yes. I read Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda when I was thirteen on the beach in front of my house in Hawaii. I lived in this bungalow my parents had at the foot of Diamond Head. Another thing that really shaped the music, I was thirteen and I was getting into guitar. The promoters that brought all the famous rock bands to Hawaii back then put them all in the house right next door to me! Jimi Hendrix, Carlos Santana, Steve Miller, and Led Zeppelin most notably, so these guys would all hang out in front of my house because there was a little patch of perfect white beach, right there.

I would surf in front of my house, and I’d come in and be learning Jimi Hendrix tunes on my guitar, and literally right across, under a banana tree, he’d be in the next little casita there, teasing his hair and getting ready to do a concert. The limousine would pick him up, and I’d catch the bus down to the concert at the HIC—Honolulu International Center: front row center for $5.00!

These were really formative years: to be exposed not only to going to the concerts, but then being exposed to those musicians, and then – they’d just sit up and jam all day! But at the same time, I was really doing the spiritual thing, so I really believe instead of being really ambitious about the music and the career, I believed that the music was just a vehicle for me to lead a contemplative life.

LT: From what I understand, both your musical and your spiritual interests may have genetic influences.

FJ: The music is just a nice thing that I can do, and I inherited the gene, and I was encouraged by my parents. My mother was little Annie Pickard on the Golden Voice on the Grand Ole Opry. My Grandfather and another guy started the Grand Ole Opry. And my Mom used to sing on it when she was four years old. They made a killing in 1929 when the stock market crashed and everybody wanted to hear music, so they all moved out to L.A. and bought a bunch of houses in North Hollywood next to Bing Crosby and Bob Hope. There were always guitars, pianos, and musical instruments, so they all encouraged this, so there was the musical genes, and the encouragement, and everything.

The spiritual thing tied in because my Mom was a metaphysician. She never took me to the doctor, she always healed me metaphysically. So I think that I incarnated into my parents situation because it gave me a fruitful environment to develop spiritually, and then have an occupation doing something that I really enjoyed. Instead of pictures of rock stars on my walls, when I was growing up I had paintings of “The guitarist” by Picasso, this hundred year old arthritic, withered [musician]—that’s something that I aspired to, “I want to do this when I’m 100.” I want to go the long haul, like Ravi Shankar or something.

LT: Moving to Sedona seems to have brought you profound growth, both musically and spiritually.

FJ: Moving to Sedona is like the epitome of all of that unfoldment. In the years that I’ve lived here I’ve gone to India a lot, and South America and Europe and traveled a lot, but I’ve always loved coming back to Sedona, it’s always felt like my home. All of my Hollywood musician friends came out to visit when I first moved here. They all asked, “Why do you want to move here?” They didn’t understand that this was really the beginning of a spiritual journey.

The land, the earth, and everything is just so spiritual, the elements and the air, even the community, just the whole vibe of itself, really lended to me what was perfect for my spiritual evolution. So it’s almost like the music is the avocation, and the spiritual journey is the vocation.

LT: Please describe how the two practices have intertwined in your life.

FJ: I think that being a musician and being on a spiritual path is really complementary. It affords you the time to meditate a lot and read a lot of spiritual literature and be contemplative and live the contemplative life. People say, “You’ve got to stop the mind, stop the mind from moving, and you’ve got to do all these tricks for meditation.” I try to do all that and my mind’s always dancing around. But when I play the guitar, it really does stop! When you’re playing an instrument, you’re not thinking about what you’re going to buy at the grocery store. Your mind just stops. And that’s meditation. To me, that’s 100% meditation.

LT: Please give our readers a glimpse of what Sedona was like for you when you began living here in 1989?

FJ: This was when you could camp anywhere around here; there was no forest or the fees, there was nothing like that. I had my van, it had a sunroof, you could open up the doors and there was a bed in it. This was like a renaissance for me; I’d just drive down to all these parts of the creek around here in ’89, ’90, ’91. I took my guitar, and I just developed my style, down on the creek. So, it was a very “yin” style. It wasn’t the “yang” style that I had developed on the bass with a lot of macho kind of aggressive chops and techniques, it was just very “yin” and floating and everything.

Because of grace—I was very grateful and lucky—because I just did this thing and then the universe just kind of always opened up for it. It’s been a real testimony that you really can control your life; you can really let the powers that be guide your life, if you’re in resonance with spirit. I think you can have all the opulence, all the abundance, the success, if you’re really in the flow with the universe.

It’s really being in a right brain flow, ‘God lead me, direct me, guide me, show me what to do.’ And I’ve really been so grateful that I’ve been able to make my living as a musician. And it’s really not about that I’m some kind of fantastic musician, it’s about being in the flow with life and being grateful.

LT: I’ve enjoyed our interview immensely.

FJ: It was wonderful sharing with you. It’s good for me too, because it puts my thoughts into a perspective. It’s like teaching: You teach what you know, and then you understand what you know. So, I appreciate it too.

LT: Thank you, Fitzhugh.

By Lynn A. Trombetta

Featured Artist Lea Gracer: Weaving a Life of Color

Lea GracerFollowing a brief tour of three decades worth of work in the home of Sedona artist and Wellness Coach, Lea Gracer, we settled in for our interview and the story of what brought this fascinating, vibrant woman to Sedona. Lea’s story of her beginnings as a textile artist evokes images full of color and texture woven together and illustrates how in her current life work she is still weaving tapestry, only now, it is without fabric.

Lynn Trombetta: Your art covers so much ground, please tell us how you became so versatile in so many expressions of your creativity.

Lea Gracer: My father was a very special man. He had many interests, and art was one of them. So there was an emphasis of art. I went to a camp called Appel Farm that was a performing and visual arts camp where I was exposed to music theatre, poetry writing, photography, weaving, and batik, and I wanted to pursue them all. He would always tell me, “Just pick one!” But, I could not imagine living without the others.

In high school we moved to Phoenix from Long Island. My father had been very sick, and they did not expect him to live. But he did, and my parents bought property in Sedona planning to build our house. But it wasn’t to be. He had a heart attack, and it took him a long time to get better. My father had had a long history in the fashion business, and while I was in college in Santa Cruz they began to make [designer] sweaters.

Meanwhile I graduated in the pre-med program. Out of money, I started making things for their clothing line. I studied textile design at the Pacific Basin School of Textile Arts in Berkeley. I’d batik on velveteen and then quilt it, and my parents put them on chenille jackets.

I ended up back in Phoenix, running that business for about twelve years. That was a huge experience because when I arrived, there were 300 employees, and I was now in charge of the whole thing at the age of 26! I was around all these yarns and we made bed throws that had sumptuous fringe. I thought, ‘I’m going to make gigantic fringe and put it on a dowel.’ I sold many of those. And then I started to incorporate that into weavings. I got a loom and I would weave with the ribbons, and then I would paint on them. This was a big part of my artistic life. I love combining things. I’m sure I made over a hundred, and there’s even a piece at the Sky Harbor Airport in their VIP room. That was the 80’s, early 90’s.

Lea Gracer and her textiles

LT: What then called you to Sedona?

LG: When I was 35, I met Dr. Lester Adler. He had just come back from Europe, teaching and practicing energy healing. That is his “super passion”—when he can work on that level it uses his heart and his soul, his whole being, and he is very good at it. He was living here in Sedona, and we would go back and forth weekends.

It took me a couple of years until I could sell the business to move to Sedona. I got involved in running Les’ newly opened clinic. I went from running my mother’s operation, to running his operation. I thought that was a smart way to go. Was it really smart for me, personally and expressing my own talents? No, it was not. It would take Les insisting that I leave the office to create a turning point for me for the better, because I then had time. We can either have control of our life, or we can have what we want. Does that make any sense? We can spend so much time controlling things so all these bad things don’t ‘maybe’ happen, but then we’re drained. I’m not saying that’s true all the time, but there is a lesson there.

That was a big emancipation. I got a call saying I’d got a fantastic part in the Vagina Monologues. I just felt, ‘my life is going to change.’ and I delved into that part, which was a highlight of my little acting career. Then, at some point I got into making mosaics for a friend’s upcoming open studios tour. I sold a ton of work, and I went into that. So, I’m always going with the flow! That was great until 9-11, when art sales just sank.

Fortunately, my nutrition business was building for weight loss. My emphasis is wellness coaching right now, and it’s been fantastic! It’s a completely different way of working than giving people advice. Every time I have an opportunity to work with somebody—wow, it’s extremely creative in the moment!

LT: Please explain that creative experience for our readers.

LG: You have to work with what’s presented to you in the moment. In coaching you have to flow with where that person is coming from, in an artful way, to get them in touch with what their life is really about: the direction they really would love to be moving in. It is connecting the dots between the best in their life, their passions, while really understanding the obstacles, so that the person can be transformed.

And it’s not really about necessarily getting to the goal, because that would be treating a person like a problem to be solved. It’s more about the process of unfolding a truer perspective. Where they can see just a little bit more about the paradigms they’re living in (of their own creation).

Coaching conversations are so meaningful to people, and you can feel it in the room. For me, that’s what makes life worth living; having these moments of real connection, of living and vibrancy—even within sadness, within pain there can be vibrancy and connection. It’s hard to describe it with words.

LT: You’ve done well. As you may know, Dahn Yoga and founder Ilchi Lee have a website called ChangeYourEnergy.com for people to be thinking about these things: How do you tap into your best self? How do you change your energy and not allow negativity to interfere?

LG: I bring this conversation to discussions with people about their health. Very often people say “I don’t know why I’m not doing this, I know better. Well, it’s saying something and we need to start a little bit earlier in the “change” trajectory.

LT: In what ways has living in Sedona contributed or influenced your work?

LG: When you asked me that question I got a very warm feeling. Sitting in this living room, looking at all of this art that I have created while I’m here, I feel as if Sedona is a palette. I’m living in a palette! Everywhere you look is inspiration and beauty. When I’m out in my backyard I’m right in nature!

It’s a very warm and nurturing place. I like the fact that it’s small, because you can feel the community more than any other place that I’ve lived and I can make a bigger difference. For years I was very active with the Sedona Artists Coalition, and I produced many art shows through them and got to bring all kinds of people together and create experiences. There’s just so much you can do here, and yet, there’s a peacefulness. I have found the city and the community supportive. The Sedona Art Center has played very strongly in my artistic development. I’ve taken so many classes there and at Yavapai, and really grew. I feel like Sedona has really given me wonderful opportunities, and I hope I’ve given back!

LT: Thank you, Lea.

By Lynn A. Trombetta

Featured Artist Ralf Illenberger: Musician Finds Calmness and Clarity among the Red Rocks

Composer, producer, and guitarist Ralf Illenberger is known for his extremely dynamic instrumental music that is both accessible and experimental. His experience spans a varied and successful thirty-year career that includes hits in Europe and the U.S., sales of over 400,000 CDs, and performances in more than 50 countries. In 1994, Illenberger left Germany with only a suitcase and his guitar to heed his “Call of Sedona.” Here he shares his story with us along with some of his dreams and plans for the future.

Ralf Illenberger

LT: Ralf, please tell our readers about the first time you saw Sedona.

RI: The first time I came to Sedona was 1987 when I had my first concert in the U.S. I was still living in Germany and had only a few concerts here in the United States. When that was through I visited a friend in Sedona. When I saw Sedona, it was very fascinating, but it was part of a tour where I saw the whole southwest. I went to the Grand Canyon and Monument Valley, so Sedona kind of blended in with all of the sights at that point; it was one of several wonderful places.

Six years later I came back. It was 1993, and I was touring in America a lot. I was touring for concerts with Narada Records, so two times a year I flew over to America for different interviews and tours because the albums were quite well received here. I visited Sedona again with a different friend, (now my former wife who had just come to Sedona two months before from the Chicago area.) Since I had some time, I stayed here for a few days.

I was traveling a lot between Europe and the United States, and I thought “why am I not making my home base here?” I’d fly to Germany and come back, you know. That’s what I’m still doing, but in 1994 I came back over here to live, with just a suitcase and my guitar!

LT: So you weren’t trying to establish yourself as a musician here in Sedona, you were using it as a home base. Correct?

RI: Yes. During the years, people got to know me in Sedona too, from playing a lot here. But that was never the point of why I came to Sedona. What we need to inspire us is here in Sedona—the monumental landscape and also the feeling I have on my “inner landscape;” it is really different.

LT: Please, tell us about that.

RI: I still go each year, two times back to Germany, for touring and concerts. Sedona is quite a different experience for me. Each time I come back it gives me more calmness, more concentration. I just like the way I feel here, physically and mentally. It’s a very clear environment. Dry and clear, and I like the desert too. It’s really my home now. That’s how I feel. So Ilchi Lee had that same feeling too?

LT: Yes, Ilchi writes extensively on his experiences, from the ordinary to the mystical in his book, The Call of Sedona. He has had many visions here. He hiked the rocks and came to know the land intimately, and almost immediately his calling grew so strong that he knew he must be here.

RI: Even though my real home is Germany and I grew up in Germany, I still like Germany, but here is where I feel really good about myself. It’s a nice place to “re-set.” Also, I really developed here a very personal relationship with nature and the magic of it. It just did not happen in Germany the way it happened here.

LT: When you speak of nature, are you referring to the sky, the rocks, the land, maybe animals?

RI: Everything, even spirits! The whole of nature!

LT: I know you photograph clouds, capturing surprising and beautiful images of angels, Native Americans, and other spirits hidden within. Do you still do this?

RI: Yes, I want to publish a book about it, with all of my angels, and I’m close now to finishing with my writing. I hope to publish it this year.

Ralf Illenberger's sky photograph

LT: How would you describe Sedona to someone who has never seen it?

RI: I would say it’s a land of the red rocks and it’s really small, and it’s still somehow hidden. I flew over one time in a little airplane and realized how small it is. It’s just five square miles or so; it’s just one little “red bowl” here!

I like that Sedona is really a melting pot of interesting people. There’s really a special breed of people here in Sedona. There are so many artists, really good ones on all levels, and then the tourist scene goes with it! It’s a lot of alternative kinds of people. I like the idea too that you can have belief in whatever you want—anything is possible here—and it feels like it! Nobody really looks at you and says “you’re crazy;” it’s like it’s just part of the deal, as seen from the outside, you know!

LT: How big of a decision was it to actually move here?

RI: I was living in Germany—so it was a huge decision! I kind of left everything there in storage—wow, you don’t need a lot. Then I got rid of it, years later, because I realized I didn’t need to bring it all here.

LT: I know you’ve had a U.S. Grammy nomination as well as the German Record Awards nomination (German ‘Grammy’ equivalent).

RI: Now I have Thunder Mountain recording studio in my home. I think I’ve produced fifteen or sixteen CDs since I came here, in my studio: my own music and other people’s. Sedona is very inspiring! I’m really good at opening people up so they play really good: It’s one of my fortes! I realized that through the years. In my studio, people play really great and do great recordings! If somebody has their own song, I’m arranging too. I play everything from keyboards, drums, and guitars as accompaniment on the arrangements. I spent time with Eric Miller last night in the studio. He’s well known here, and together we have a new album coming out soon. We listened to the whole thing, and we’re very close to finished. It’s very different—I make all the music, and he’s singing. It’s kind of pop songs, but really “out there” and really cool! We think “creative pop” describes it well.

I wanted to say before, establishing the connection to be with nature, that feeling is really strong for me! I feel it calling, and I have a totally different understanding of nature now. This is how I recognized it: I was sitting on a hill, and it took a while. In the beginning, I was just sitting there enjoying the landscape, and at some point I realized, “Ohh!”

I think that in a way, you have to be by yourself, because in groups of people it’s not showing itself to you. I’ve had other people share that this has happened to them in the same way. You really have to be by yourself so you can come into communication with nature.

It’s a very different experience: I know I’m never alone out there, even when I’m by myself. I feel like the world is kind of recognizing you when you’re in that state. I feel even the birds recognize it! In a way, you only have to open yourself up to nature . . . anywhere you are, I guess.

Then you can work with it—or it can work with you!

LT: Thank you, Ralf!

By L.A. Trombetta

Featured Artist: Linda Goldenstein Gets Called Home

By L.A. Trombetta

This northern Arizona native heeded the call when Sedona called her home. Learn more about Linda Goldenstein’s Call of Sedona and how she discovered her own kind of creativity.

Linda Goldenstein's Call to Sedona

LAT: Thanks for agreeing to share your own Call of Sedona story with us! Like Ilchi Lee, you have a love for the ever-changing natural beauty of Sedona. Your roots run deep here. Please tell our readers some colorful bits from your family’s early history in Arizona and how Sedona called you home.

LG: I’m a native of northern Arizona. My family lived at Peach Springs which is on the original Route 66 on the Hualapai Nation Indian Reservation. When I was a kid in the 60’s, my Dad owned a series of gas stations and a motor lodge along Route 66 from Flagstaff to Kingman, back when Route 66 was thriving. My grandparents had moved there in the 1930’s, and they ran a postal station called Valentine. The train was the main vein, and Route 66, which ran by their front yard, developed alongside of it. My grandmother was the postmistress and people would drive from all over to have their valentines postmarked “Valentine, AZ” for the holiday!

They had a grocery store and a cabin, and they stayed there for 43 years. Everyone who went on Route 66 either stopped at their store or stayed there; people like Wallis Simpson and the Duke of Windsor, and Elvis Presley really did go there! My dad grew up there: right in the heart of Hualapai country! My Uncle married a lovely Hualapai woman, my Aunt Rosie, so I have about 30 cousins named Goldenstein out on the Hualapai reservation today.

Mom’s side were pioneers in the 1800’s in Flagstaff. They came in through the train depot in Winona Trading Post. (Which is actually the building that the Sedona Historical Society has plans to restore for exhibit and educational purposes.) Homesteaders, they were also the schoolteachers at the one-room schoolhouse in Winona. So you can see there are some really deep roots here; my family in Sedona goes back to the 1940’s. My great uncle, Walter Nelson, was Arizona’s State Highway Commissioner and he’s the one that widened 89A in West Sedona.

Eventually, we moved to Flagstaff, and down to Camp Verde where my Dad bought a horse ranch. The old “Adobe Ranch” is claimed to be the first Anglo dwelling in the Verde Valley, and anyone that lived in that house up until 1930 was buried in a pioneer cemetery right there. Later, when they re-plastered the building, they washed the plaster away to get the arrowheads out of it from when it had been under attack! So there’s some real history there. I grew up out there and spent over 30 years in Camp Verde.

LAT: Tell us about the career choices that eventually led you to open your gallery, Goldenstein Gallery, here in Sedona.

LG: Well, for a time I worked in the banking industry. The work schedule was a good match while I was raising my children. After the kids became teenagers, I was offered a job to be a business manager for a very high end custom furniture and architectural product company in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I decided to leave Camp Verde and go there, and get the kids out in the world a bit.

LAT: So when did Sedona begin to call you back?

LG: After a while I got to missing my family here. My kids had grown up and had returned to Arizona, and my daughter was having a baby. So I made plans to return. In the last few months in Santa Fe a friend who had a big gallery had become ill and needed help. I started working there, and I fell completely in love with the arts—the artists, the customers. I loved how it felt when someone said, “It’s beautiful, it moves me!” And, unlike the custom work world, the customers are accepting of the piece just as it is. I decided that I would pursue this.

For my “education” in the arts, I selected different galleries and worked at them: that was my university! I worked for many and developed great, longstanding relationships. The work was seasonal, and I could work in Sedona during spring and fall, Scottsdale in winter, and Santa Fe for the summer. Over these past 15 years of being in the arts, I have worked with literally thousands of artists!

So I was bouncing around; it was a fun time. I had worked six months straight and was coming home to visit my family. I got here late at night. I remember I was so excited to be here. I woke up in the morning of September 11 and happened to turn on the TV, which I never do, and I watched the twin towers fall. And I just decided, right there on the spot that if at all falls apart tomorrow, I’d rather be here than anywhere.

LAT: Your family was all still here?

LG: Yes, at that time there were five generations living here. Now there are three, and I’m the “old one.” I was really blessed to come back, and I had decided not to do a gallery. I planned to represent a small group of artists that I have strong relationships with to a group of galleries I worked with. The galleries loved the arrangement. The artists loved it too! We did artists in residence and other programs and were a gallery “outside the box.” It all finally evolved into the uptown gallery location, and then into this. We now work with over 60 artists, and it’s all about the relationships!

LAT: So, your Call to Sedona was really a call to come home and discover your true life’s work.

LG: Yes, in so many ways it was a call to come home. It seemed Sedona offered me an opportunity to grow with Sedona in the arts. It was a time when I felt we could really shape what had been happening over many decades in the arts here. The Gallery Association is really a wonderful group of people with like intentions and good ethics. We began the First Friday Gallery tours back then.

LAT: It is interesting to note that you did not come from a background in art, yet you obviously apply your creativity to being here in Sedona and sharing the work of so many amazingly talented artists with visitors who come this way.

LG: I wasn’t raised with art, but from my first experience I recognized that art is a living, breathing experience. Art is life-enhancing and the reward for us is to see the life enhancement. To this day it feels just like it did on the first day: one piece might provoke thoughts that are healing, or life changing, or possibly just make someone smile.

LAT: Do you ever think about creating art?

I have had ideas, from a tech aspect I could tell you anything about any of the techniques that are used in the gallery. I have thought about it, but probably am too busy with the gallery. You know, it takes those who create and those who are appreciative of the creativity to make the world go round! More and more I do accept the fact that there is a lot of creativity to what I do to make it all work.

Sometimes people ask if I am the one who created all this art. And I say, “No, I’m the glue that holds the artists together.” So that’s my creativity. We are blessed to get a lot of compliments on the gallery, and I tell people, “My artists make me look good.”

LAT: Aside from your gratitude over just being back “home,” what has stood out and made a difference for you here?

LG: Community! What I love about Sedona is everybody’s here because they want to be. As part of the community, we are open and we are loving. People are entitled to their own opinions, but at the end of the day we are there for each other as a community. It’s a community that is generous in many ways: we have people that can afford to be generous with money, and we have people who are generous with their time and their talent. It’s a very loving place.

And then too, in this community is my family. I have always loved my Native American family and appreciate that connection ever more. And, I now have seven grandchildren in this area. They are a gift from God, every one of them. So, having my family here, and then I look at those red rocks, and know I’m home!

Bronze Sculptor, James N. Muir Shares His Call to Sedona and His Artistic Calling

Like Ilchi Lee, Bronze Sculptor, James N. Muir experienced the Call of Sedona from afar. In this revealing interview, learn how Muir followed his destiny and brought his dream into reality in the red rocks of Sedona. Muir’s call not only brought him across the country from Indiana to Sedona, but also led him to his true calling. On my visit to his working Studio/Gallery in Sedona, Muir takes time away from his live model and his largest commission ever, a 25 ft. sculpture depicting Texas A&M University’s 6 core values for Kyle Stadium’s 2015 dedication. Here we interview this thought-provoking artist on his journey and his discoveries along the way.

James Muir, bronze scultor, Sedona AZ

JNM: I took a circuitous route to get here! I had a keen interest in the west and that colorful history, the whole idea intrigued me. I began to feel a calling to go west, so one day I loaded up my horses, a mare and a colt, and I moved to Texas. I went to farrier (horse shoeing) school in Mineral Wells, TX. I then decided to go further west, through New Mexico, but no place felt right, so I kept going until I ended up in Phoenix. From there I decided to head north to Wickenburg, since I had always wanted to see the cowboy life. But when I arrived, all of the guest ranches were closed, with all the hands gone to Colorado. I traveled on, through Prescott, but again, it didn’t feel right.

A friend had told me of his love of the Flagstaff area, so I decided to go there. I traveled from Prescott, down through Jerome. I thought Jerome was cool, but still not quite “me.” By now it was dark so as I headed down the hill, I had no idea about the red rocks that surrounded me. This was spring of 1979, and when I arrived in Sedona I thought, “What a wonderful, sleepy, quiet town! I knew I wanted to be in mountains, then I saw the lighted cross on airport hill as I drove in. I am a great believer in “signs,” so when I saw the cross, I thought, “This is where I’ll land.” I got a motel in the dark of night, and it wasn’t until the next morning that I saw where I was—surrounded by red rocks and all this beauty. But in the darkness of the night before, I had already made my decision, by the feel of the place that I would move and live here.

LAT: As I understand, you were not doing art at that time. What did you do to earn a living in Sedona?

JNM: Back then, you really had to earn the right to live here; I did anything and everything I could to stay. I ended up working round up at couple of ranches—I got to “cowboy.”

And you’re correct; I hadn’t yet discovered my art. I began visiting Husberg’s Gallery and developed a nice friendship with Allen and Sheila Husberg. I was knowledgeable in history and horses, so it made for nice, sharing conversation. I became increasingly drawn back to study the sculptures in the gallery. Even though I’d never had any formal art training, I started thinking, “That’s not the way I’d do that: sometimes it was a question of horse anatomy or psychology, or other things I would notice. Then I began to know intuitively that I could sculpt. I decided to get some clay and I tried it. One night, I started at 9 p.m. and by 3 a.m. my first sculpture, “Parting Shot” was roughed in.

After it was finished, I checked with the local foundry and had it cast in bronze. When I took it to Husberg’s, they bought it immediately. A few days later when I visited the gallery, there it was on display in the gallery, alongside the work of the “professional” sculpture artists!

I started a second piece, “Rescue Under Fire,” and before I’d even finished, the gallery bought it and also took a customer order for another one. About that time I worked five months at a foundry owned by Jerry Eden, He was kind enough to give me a start. It was at this time that I received some sage advice from Allen Husberg. He said, “Sculpt what you know.”

LAT: Sculpting “what you know” has produced an incredible array of subjects including your amazing horses as well as the fact that your interest in historical events has led to pieces that depict military, cavalry, and Native American Indian wars. The historical detail included in your pieces is indeed impressive!

JNM: I depict history truthfully and accurately in every regard. I became known for historical details, not just in the “details,” but in the nature of the character and emotions of what I am depicting. Emotions such as love, and courage, and everything in between. My “sage” friend Lester Levenson (The Sedona Method) once pointed out that what I am actually depicting is “courageousness—the bridge between the level where most people approach life and a more uplifting focus based on acceptance, and ultimately peace.”

LAT: You have often referred to yourself as an Allegorical Sculptor, and your pieces have many levels of meaning, both the subtle and those more obvious.

JNM: By the end of the second year of sculpting, I had already become aware that what I was doing went way beyond being a mirror of reality, and as I later learned through a quote by Bertolt Brecht, art can be, should be at a higher level, “not [merely] a mirror to reflect reality, but rather a hammer to shape it.”

Early on, in fact, at the very outset of my career, I came to increasingly recognize that through this God-given talent, I was given an opportunity, through my art, to be a messenger, helping bring light into the darkness of men’s hearts, and leave the world a better place than when I found it, in some small way. I’m a believer that talent is God’s gift to a person, what we do with it is what we give back. The only way we truly serve God is in service to others, “service to ONE, through service to ALL.”

LAT: Recalling the Sedona you encountered so many years ago and the energy of Sedona today, how has this place influenced your art?

JNM: The red rocks of Sedona have always been an ever present reminder of what true power and greatness is. This helps to keep a more balanced perspective on our individual role being played in the overall divine plan. Still, people often look for a “savior” outside of themselves, or come to Sedona in search of “something.” And the true message that can be discovered here is that the “something” you seek is within you.

LT: Last year you released a beautiful work, called “Eden’s Gate” that was sculpted partially en plein aire in a small apple orchard in Sedona. It is in this work that I personally see how you have captured the essence, both of that “something” that we seek, as well as the energy of Sedona, both strong and tender.

JNM: Yes, People can find that “beautiful garden” here. It’s true though, that we each have that Garden of Eden within. Once you have found it, you can’t just stay and wallow in the beautiful place, you have to take it out into the world. Artists in all fields find it, but with the blessing, comes the responsibility of taking your gifts out into the world at large. Then, the “by-products” of your journey, your art, can be spread out and shared with the rest of the world.

LAT: Thank You!